With the roosters still firmly tucked in their beds and a delicate kiss on his sleeping wife’s cheek, John Parker knows that his logging truck number 5659 awaits him for another long day behind the wheel. I met with John, from Aztec logging, under the cover of darkness in Topuni, and hauled myself into his big truck ready to emancipate myself from any of the preconceived opinions that I had about the industry – and thank God I did. John is the epitome of our proud working class, shouldering his responsibility as provider, husband and father. This is the sort of backbone and integrity that sits behind the wheel of these mammoth trucks, endlessly criss-crossing our country, keeping our prized export industry going, while keeping our driving public safe.
John Parker throws over the chains to anchor down the load.
Like most, I had always feared these big trucks prior to my day out in one. Their sheer size, slower speed and my complete ignorance had contributed to some of my negative thoughts. For these amazing men, their cab is their office and the road their computer screen for up to 70 hours a week. No such luxury of glancing away or resting weary eyes exists. A myriad of safety alarms in the cab ensure that it’s “eyes on, game on” for your safety constantly. State Highway 16 has few passing options and is a true expression of John’s demure, polite driving – and an eye-watering insight into just how frustrated the driving public can be and the insane risks they are prepared to take to get past these trucks. Tailgating, tooting and risk taking has now firmly been added to my list of workplace bullying, so I just pretend that the wood these trucks are carrying is going to put a roof over my head.
Arriving at the forest for loading, my hopes of calendar-style, chainsaw-wielding, half-naked men in leather chaps was dashed. Everything is mechanised within an inch of its life, and huge safety regulation mostly confines human interaction to crib huts, polite hand signals and cheery voices bouncing through radio waves. Our big truck loads fast and precisely, and John chugs his big rig forward to tie down. Like a rancher lassoing a cow, John throws over the chains to anchor down the load and uses a ratchet and twitch to tightly secure all the logs. Double check. Triple check. Out comes the broom, and the trailer is swept down to clear any loose bark and debris to keep the traveling public safe.
With his load fully secured, John launches back into his rig and is now at the helm of 46-tonne worth of truck and trailer fully loaded. The truck moves slowly at first; she needs time to readjust and take a breath before hauling her big load up to the port. The CB radios are buzzing, and John has let all parties know that he is leaving the forest and is on his way. We reach Kaukapakapa, and I need a caffeine shot. John glances at his watch and it is time for his mandatory, industry-regulated half-hour stop after 5.5 hours. Never again will I have a lazy sookie whinge when I cannot find a close parking spot. These boys take parking frustration issues to the next level.
With no more time to dilly-dally, John finishes his adorable packed lunch. He has waiting ships and quotas to fill, so he charges his girl up again ready for the long haul to Marsden Point. We pass other logging trucks on the way, and the bush radio is singing with a wonderful camaraderie. This is, in essence, a very lonely job and the polite banter that permeates the cabins of these trucks from the CB radio is the glue that keeps up much morale. It was a privilege to be exposed to their endless road. You strong men are the long and winding piece of our community jigsaw, and with warm and more understanding hands, we can now slide your piece of the jigsaw into place.